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Honoring WWII Vets with the Commemorative Air Force

By Courtney Clark

Dallas is honoring Air Force veterans and history with the Commemorative Air Force Headquarters, which opened more than 50 years ago in Harlingen. The headquarters is a great resource for the community by housing significant aircraft that were used during the Second World War. Residents can learn how America won the war as well as more about one of the largest air forces in the world.

The CAF began in 1957. Vice President of Marketing Leah Block explains the Commemorative Air Force came about when "a small group of men, many of whom were pilots and WWII servicemen, realized that the aircraft used in World War II were being destroyed at an alarming rate." Then group decided to save the aircraft from becoming scrap metal by collecting them. This way there would be "a tangible piece of history that could be used to honor and tell the story of how America and the Allied Forces won the War."

The first museum opened in 1965 in Mercedes and covered 26,000 square feet. To date, the CAF has a collection of over 160 aircraft, most of which are still operable. With a membership of 12,000 people who live in every state and 28 foreign countries, the CAF also has 60 locations across the nation. The headquarters remain in Dallas.

The CAF has a varied aircraft collection. Many of them are rare, such as the Boeing B-29 Superfortress FIFI, the Consolidated B-24A Liberator Diamond 'Lil, and the Bell P-63 Kingcobra fighter. Each is flown regularly by member/volunteers known as Colonels; according to the website, this is done to support the air force's mission which is, among other objectives, "to perpetuate in the memory and in the hearts of all Americans the spirit in which these great planes were flown in the defense of our nation."

Block also says the air force's first major event will take place on October 28-30, 2016: the Wings Over Dallas Airshow. Taking place at the Dallas Executive Airport (formerly Redbird Airport), Block says the show "will showcase some of CAF's most legendary aircraft." More than 30 aircraft are expected, several of which will hold tours and rides for the public. In addition, to mark the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, a tribute show called TORA! TORA! TORA! will recreate the attack. The feature act will use real aircraft and pyrotechnics.

The CAF draws crowds because of their aircraft and shows, but Block points out that the real stars are our WWII veterans. Many are invited to attend and tell their stories to attendees. The Dallas community is encouraged to check out the history in their town since, as Block says, "opportunities like this do not come along every day."

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